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Court Deems Oklahoma Sharia Law Ban “Unconstitutional”

A federal appeals court found that an Oklahoma amendment banning Sharia law is unconstitutional, and upheld an injunction on the law. You can read the court’s full decision here (via Doug Mataconis). CBS reports that the anti-Sharia amendment can now be challenged by Muneer Awad, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, who sued a state board to prevent the law from going into effect:

An amendment that would ban Oklahoma courts from considering international or Islamic law discriminates against religions and a Muslim community leader has the right to challenge its constitutionality, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

The court in Denver upheld U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange’s order blocking implementation of the amendment shortly after it was approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters in November 2010.

The main issue the court took with the amendment was that it singled out Sharia law, while ignoring other forms of religious law. In the court’s decision, it said the amendment was subject to the “Larson test,” from Larson v. Valente, which held that “The State may not adopt programs or practices…which aid or oppose any religion.”

Supporters of the ban countered that the amendment did in fact ban all religious law – it simply didn’t specify these other religions by name. But the court disagreed:

The only religious law mentioned in the amendment is Sharia law, which is defined in SQ 755 in religious terms: “Sharia law is Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teachings of Mohammad.” …

The language prohibits Oklahoma courts from upholding and adhering to laws of other states that include Sharia law but does not prohibit Oklahoma courts from upholding and adhering to laws of other states that include the laws of any other religion. On this basis alone, application of Larson strict scrutiny is warranted. …

The amendment bans only one form of religious law – Sharia law.

In order to pass the Larson test, supporters of the Sharia ban needed to prove there was a compelling state justification for the law. But as the court noted, the appellants couldn’t name a single example of an Oklahoma court even applying Sharia law. Ever:

Appellants do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to resolve. Indeed, they admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations of cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.

This fight over the Oklahoma Sharia law ban isn’t over by a long shot, but this decision definitely highlights its futility. If Sharia opponents can’t name a single instance of Islamic law being used in the state courts, what exactly is the point of banning it — beyond vague and unsubstantiated fears?

On the other hand, there isn’t exactly a compelling counter-argument in favor of Sharia law. The U.S. courts should avoid applications of religious law in general. And Sharia has a particularly horrific reputation, since it’s used to justify the state-sanctioned oppression of women, the silencing of journalists and human rights workers, religious persecution, and vicious executions across the Islamic world.

But the good news for Sharia law opponents is that these things are already illegal in the United States, and Sharia is rarely applied to anything in this country beyond executions of wills and personal financing matters. Unless that changes, attempts to “ban” it are based on little more than hysteria and conspiracy theories.